Google Personalized Search

By ranfanranfan (1260060779|%a, %b %e at %I:%M%p)

Google announced on December 4th, extending their personalized search system.

This is something that first came out in 2005, and unfortunately, I had no idea it existed.

What is Personalized Search?

Personalized Search uses search history you've been building to get better results. You probably won't notice much difference at first, but as your search history grows, your personalized results will gradually improve.

There are a couple things I didn't know existed in Google

  • My Search History
    • Web
    • Images
    • News
    • Products
    • Sponsored Links
    • Videos
    • Maps
    • Blogs
    • Books
    • Trends
    • Bookmarks
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How does Web History Work?

So the underlying principle of Personalized Search is to use web history to figure out what you're probably looking for. Google's web history allows you to:

  • View your web activity. You know that great web site you saw online and now can't find? With Web History.
  • Search the full text of pages you've visited. Web History allows you to search across the web pages, images, videos and news stories you've viewed.
  • Get personalized search results and more. Web History helps deliver search results based on what you've searched for and which sites you've seen.
  • Find trends on your web activity. Look at your most visited sites and top searches.
  • See personalized query suggestions. Suggest based on what you've searched for and which sites you've visited.

To include the web pages you visit in your web history, you need to install Toolbar ( which only works in Firefox, and not Chrome :[ ). During the installation, click to accept the PageRank feature, which sends information about pages you visit to Google. With Web History, the information sent by PageRank will be associated with your Google Account and used to provide Web History services, as well as the PageRank services described during the Toolbar installation process.

PageRank: Google's view of the importance of a web page: Pause your cursor over the Page Rank button to display the importance of the web page that you're viewing, according to Google. Web pages with a higher Page Rank are more likely to appear at the top of Google search results. To learn more, see the Technology Overview.

Extending Personalized Search

Starting this week, Google is extending Personalized Search worldwide to users who are signed out of their Google accounts, and in more than 40 languages. Now when you search using Google, it will be better able to provide the most relevant results using 180 days of Google search activity from your browser. This is based on anonymous cookie in your browser. It's completely separate from your Google Account and Web History (which are only available to signed-in users). You'll know when we customize results because a "View customizations" link will appear on the top right of the search results page. Clicking the link will let you see how we've customized your results and also let you turn off this type of customization.

Good Features

I like the idea of a more "personalized search engine". This is helpful as a time saver tool. For instance, if I always look up news for McCafe and NOT Starbucks, the next time I type coffee, it may show preference for McCafe. Because I only just learned about this feature, I may not get a chance to review its full effects. However, I will start using it now to see how much of a difference it makes.

There are several features that I really thought demonstrated thoughtfulness on Google's part

  • Pausing : If you're visiting a webpage or performing a search that you don't want stored in your web history, just click the Web History link from the My Account page, then click the Pause link on the left side of the Web History page. Once you click Pause, your web activity won't be kept in Web History or used to personalize your search results until you click Resume. I wish this feature could be more accessible, say have a pause button right on the tool bar instead of having to go into Accounts page, but at least it exists.
  • Remove Items : To remove items, you can just go to my Web History and click the Remove button. There's also a link to clear your entire web history
  • Trends : I have mentioned this feature before. You can click the Trends link on your web history page to see the trends in your web activity, including your top searches, most visited websites, daily activity, and other interesting tidbits.
  • Bookmark : On the Google Toolbar, there is also a bookmark icon. It works very similar to Delicious or Diigo, all you have to do it click it and tag when you like a page. You can view the bookmarks for specific labels using the links on the left side of the page. The labels and notes you create for bookmarks are also searchable.
  • RSS Feed History : You can view your history as RSS Feeds

Concerns

I have been an avid Google user for many years, but I have not heard about this. I can't help but feel that Google should send out newsletter/email or something to its users informing them of all these new functions they're constantly developing. This is a question I will definitely ask the Google representatives coming to class Monday.

There are also lots of concerns about privacy. Rather, the complete LACK of privacy. Google basically is tracking everything you don on the computer. The only consolation is that at least they're using it to help make our experience better. They make the privacy notice transparent, but for the most part it is: "we are going to track everything unless you tell us not to. Even then, we might still track it."

Summary: Web History vs. Search History

It seems like these two are blending together. If I really think about it. Unless I am going to a very specific site, for instance Wall Street Journal, I will usually go through Google to find websites. Similarly, if I ever need to go through search history, it is usually to find something that I searched for on Google. Therefore, the feature of seeing my web browsing broken down is useful. The advanced features of also tracking me when I'm not even signed into Google is creepy. But we already knew that the Internet is a creepy crawler. I mean seriously, the very tool that searches is called a SPIDER. As long as you don't become so shady that a search of your name doesn't show up on Criminal Search, Google's personalization tools should only be helpful to you!

More information.

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